Algonquin Regional sophomore A.J. Brodeur stood in a nearly empty stairwell and thought about how his jump shot came to be. Moments earlier, on the other side of a set of double doors, the 6-foot-8 center had scored a game-high 20 points in his team’s 59-41 win over host Shrewsbury, not as the result of using his height in the post, but by way of a feathery jumper.
Almost every day in August, Brodeur went to McAfee Park in Northborough to work on his game, and his shooting stroke in particular. Sometimes he’d be there in the morning, sometimes he’d go around noon and stay until dark to hone the follow-through on his release. He knew that if he got the proper rotation on his shot, he might make half of his jumpers. Maybe even more.
“When they’re playing off me like they did tonight, and I really get open,” Brodeur said after Tuesday’s game, “I can make the open jump shot.”
Brodeur’s commitment to becoming a more complete player has helped the Tomahawks turn into one of the most dangerous teams in Central Massachusetts. Following Brodeur’s lead in the high-octane offensive system of first-year coach Brian Doherty , Algonquin has raced out to a 13-1 record.
“He’s a just sophomore, and he still needs some work,” Doherty said. “But, boy, not much. He needs to get a little stronger, a little bit thicker. But he’s a monster, and he knows how to play. He can run. He’s a great complement to the team. He’s unbelievable.”
There is room for Brodeur to fill out his lithe 205-pound frame stacked on size-16 sneakers, but what he lacks in bulk he makes up for with athleticism and basketball IQ. Every time he takes the floor seems to be an opportunity to flash a different aspect of his game.
Against Shrewsbury, Brodeur’s jumper took center stage. On a December night vs. Quabbin Regional, he had 17 rebounds. Facing Fitchburg early last month, he had 10 blocked shots. He’s averaging 17 points, 14 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and an eye-popping 7 rejections per game.
Doherty, whose father, Dr. John Doherty , served as the team physician for the Boston Celtics from 1959 to 1969, doesn’t hesitate to compare Brodeur’s defense to that of Celtics great Bill Russell .
“You see a lot of him in A.J.,” Doherty said. “Just the way he blocks — he keeps it in bounds, he blocks it to teammates — the way he doesn’t get in foul trouble, it’s almost identical. It’s pretty scary.”
When Brodeur makes a block, and the Tomahawks start to run, they’re all scary. Speedy sophomore point guard Mike Stamas leads the break with senior captain Brad Canova and senior sharpshooter Brandon Lukoff alongside. Their ability to finish in traffic and knock down jumpers forces teams to defend them all.
“It’s more than just A.J.,” said Shrewsbury coach Adrian Machado . “What makes him so hard to guard is Brandon Lukoff, Canoba, Stamas. These guys do a very good job of getting the ball to him, and they can shoot it. And they space the floor, which makes room for A.J. It’s a double-edged sword. You go after A.J., and they get open looks. It’s tough.”
A year ago, Algonquin finished the regular season with just nine wins. This season, with a breakneck style and one of the state’s best centers, they already have qualified for the MIAA Division 1 Central postseason tournament, and they are in the running to share the Midland Wachusett League’s A Division title for the first time since 2000.
The same way that Brodeur challenged himself at the park over the summer, the Tomahawks are just trying to find out how good they can be.
“We definitely knew we had a lot of potential at the beginning of the season,” Brodeur said. “And working hard the way we do in practice every day, we think we can really get the most out of what we have.”
Kirshe’s return gives Franklin girls a boost
While Kristi Kirshe sat out the first month of the season with a back injury, Franklin High coach John Leighton saw how badly his senior cocaptain and point guard wanted to be back on the floor.
“I thought she was going to break all the chairs in the gym watching practice,” Leighton said with a laugh. “She wanted to play.”
Kirshe hurt her back while captaining the Franklin girls’ soccer team to the Division 1 state championship last fall. She played in her first basketball game of the season on Jan. 8, a 56-52 loss to North Attleborough, but the Panthers won the next six games thanks in large part to Kirshe’s presence.
“Getting her back has been big,” Leighton said.
“Kristi’s arguably the most competitive kid I’ve ever come across. She’s also one of the best leaders I’ve had. When you put those two things together, it picks everything up, from practice to game time; kids look to her.”
Together with fellow senior captain Alicia Kutil , the Panthers’ leading scorer, Kirshe has helped Franklin roll to an 11-2 mark.
The team has eight seniors, and Leighton usually uses a rotation of about 11 players. In several games this season, Leighton played all 15 girls on his roster, which is more than he’s ever carried on a team.
“We’re playing together, playing good defense, running and working to score in transition,” Leighton said.
“We have good balance, and good depth. I think we go deeper than a lot of teams and I think that’s really helped us.”
Here and there
Wayland High senior point guard Jaleel Bell scored his 1,000th point last week in a 58-53 win over Boston Latin. He scored 26 total in the game to lead the Warriors. . .
Two big upsets shook up Central Mass. as the regular season shifted into its final quarter. The Nashoba Regional boys (9-6) received 9 points from senior Jordan Edmonds to pull out a 47-46 win over Mid-Wach A leader Wachusett Regional (13-2). On the same night, the Marlborough girls (6-9) eked out a 46-44 win over Algonquin (10-3).
Phil Perry can be reached at email@example.com.